The legendary Belgian conductor André Cluytens this weekend. A performance of Debussy’s orchestral work, Jeux, as it was given with the French National Orchestra in this radio broadcast via the ORTF in Paris, circa 1953.
Cluytens was one of the most well-known interpreters of French Orchestral music from the late 1940s on. His reputation was worldwide, due in part to his contract with the French branch of EMI; Pathé-Marconi. But also because of his popularity with orchestras and audiences all over the world. He was particularly active in the recording studio during the early days of the lp and was responsible for a number of first recordings of otherwise obscure works which, thanks to the long-playing record, were now heard and appreciated by another whole generation of concertgoers and record collectors.
He was long associated with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, having been one of its principle conductors from 1942 when he made his first appearance with the orchestra to his succeeding Charles Munch as Music Director in 1949 until 1960.
He was also a much sought-after Opera conductor, having been closely associated with the celebrated Opera-Comique from 1947-1953. And it was during this period that many of his most memorable and celebrated early lp recordings were made. Many of which have remained in the catalog and have transitioned over to the CD era.
Aside from his reputation with French repertoire, Cluytens was also establishing a reputation in the area of German opera, and was the first French conductor to perform at the famous Bayreuth Festival in 1953, and only the third non-German conductor to perform at the legendary festival (the other two were Toscanini and de Sabata). He continued to regularly conduct at Bayreuth until 1965 where he enjoyed a good working relationship with the singers and audiences.
His death in 1967 robbed the musical world of one of the truly gifted artists in the concert hall.
This weekend, it’s one of those works André Cluytens established his reputation as primary interpreter of French repertoire with. This 1953 broadcast recording displays orchestral playing that’s not practiced all that much these days, so it may sound a bit strange if you aren’t already familiar, particularly with the Horn section. But after a minute or so you may find yourself wondering why French orchestras still don’t sound this way. Good question.
For the time being, enjoy.